“Highly anticipated second album” is a bit of an overused phrase. But, I’m struggling to come up with an alternative, because in 2015 indie-rocker Courtney Barnett nearly took over the world with Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Its follow-up has widely acclaimed, much-adored shoes to fill. Never fear, Tell Me How You Really Feel builds on its predecessor in both sound and sentiment.
Tell Me How You Really Feel starts sparse. ‘Hopefulessness’ creeps in, a simple riff accompanied by Barnett’s drawl. The slow build eventually gives way to looping grungy riffs that finish on a chaotic note. This contrasts crisply with its boppy follow-up ‘City Looks Pretty’.
Throughout, Barnett stares down the feeling she is conveying, such as short and shat-off ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’. It contains a confidence that previously went unarticulated. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether she is dishing out wisdom for the listener, or simply reminding herself how to keep it together: “You gotta learn your place / Don’t let it go to waste.”
The album’s first single ‘Nameless, Faceless’ takes a more roundabout approach, enclosing the topic of online trolls and toxic masculinity in a humorous jangle. Rage isn’t the appropriate word for it; she borrows Margaret Atwood’s quip in the chorus “Men are afraid women will laugh at them,” with this song translating into a cackle.
Barnett’s lyrics always speak for themselves. We know this. However, it is the song-writing here which is stand-out, especially as there isn’t a dud in sight. Throughout Tell Me, cruisey pieces of earworm slip into crunchy break-downs with ease. These moments of untidy (and ultimately, very fun) variation do well to break apart the record and keep it moving comfortably. The album finishes on a softer note with ‘Sunday Roast’. It is evocative of How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose’s ‘Anonymous Club’, both a lovely toast to good company.
A potential downside is five of the tracks were available prior to the record’s release. I fear fans might throw discipline to the wind, ignore the listing and tuck straight into their favourite singles. And whilst each track functions well in isolation, this album is its own unit. Its diverse textures and cheeky lyrical details blend together into a wonderfully enjoyable whole. I recommend brewing a cuppa and having a sit down with Tell Me How You Really Feel all the way through.
Hear the songs in person on Barnett’s upcoming tour.
Friday 17th August – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Saturday 18th August – Metropolis, Fremantle
Wednesday 22nd August – The Tivoli, Brisbane
Thursday 23rd August – Sydney Opera House
Saturday 25th August – Sydney Opera House
Wednesday 29th August – Powerstation, Auckland
Thursday 30th August – Opera House, Wellington
Saturday 1st September – Festival Hall, Melbourne